Would you swap spit with a stranger you know has a disease linked to severe skin infections, pneumonia, swelling of the brain and, in some cases, flesh-eating disease and death?
The latest rash of parents sending chicken pox-infected lollipops or “pox packages” through the mail shows the irrational and dangerous extremes to which parents will go to avoid vaccinating their children.
These pox-swappers connect on Facebook and online parenting forums to request saliva, infected lollipops and clothing from other families in the hope of immunizing their children the “natural” way. But the only thing that the anti-vaccine mob seems immune to is common sense.
Not only are these families endangering their own children, they’re also risking the herd immunity that protects us all from preventable, but potentially life-threatening diseases.
The chicken pox vaccine was first authorized for use in Canada in 1998, and like all authorized vaccines, it went through several stages of rigorous testing to ensure its safety and efficacy.
The side effects of the vaccine – typically mild fever and a rash, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada – seem trifling compared with the hundreds of blisters that attend a normal case of chicken pox.
Add to that the potentially fatal complications of contracting the virus and it’s hard to understand why people refuse to vaccinate their children, let alone give them diseased lollipops that could be coated in any number of other dangerous pathogens.
Some argue the vaccine isn’t 100-per-cent effective at preventing future cases of chicken pox, but neither is contracting the virus.
The difference is that those vaccinated people who do get chicken pox later experience much less severe symptoms than unvaccinated people.
Deaths from chicken pox have plummeted since the vaccine was introduced in Canada. The most recent data indicate only six deaths occurred between 2000 and 2005. Previously, that many deaths occurred each year.
Meanwhile, allowing the wild virus to continue circulating reduces Canadians’ herd immunity. Herd immunity rests on the principle of safety in numbers; if more people in a population are immune to a certain virus, more people, even those who aren’t immune, are protected from the disease.
Population-wide immunity is crucial to protecting vulnerable people who, for medical reasons, are unable to receive the vaccine.
Transporting viruses is highly regulated in North America for this reason and people who flout these laws for their own selfish reasons are arguably engaging in bioterrorism.
A commenter on the Mothering.com forum tried to warn her pox-posting compatriots that “one of the mail workers in between both of you could be (immune) compromised” and contact with the virus could be “very bad for them (and might) even kill them.”
But of course, mommy knows best. Another poster on the forum snapped back that the virus would be “completely sealed” in a plastic baggie and therefore pose no risk “unless they hacked into the package.”
What’s really scary is that it’s not just chicken pox these parents are trading – posters on some forums have also requested diseases such as measles and rubella.
It’s time Canada implement mandatory vaccination policies such as those implemented in Belgium, where polio vaccination is compulsory.
Some Canadian provinces, such as Ontario, already have policies in place that make up-to-date vaccination a requirement for public school attendance.
Enforcing these policies and instituting them countrywide could be an easy way to ensure we stamp out the real threat to our children’s health – ignorance.
Lauren Vogel – Centretown News